Late Seventies

Pedy had once told Billy about a film he’d made in the late seventies. The offer had come through to the North Soho News Agency to smear Harold Wilson. ‘We’d got the old Trot out of Number Ten,’ Pedy explained. ‘But we needed to ruin his legacy. The clients involved had requested something really nasty. They actually wanted him to be filmed interfering with animals- I think someone mentioned a horse- but I said “No, no, I’m just not doing that.” It was an interesting experience, to find my own limits.’

Instead, Pedy had decided to make a straight sex film. ‘Nothing the Westminster village likes better than a really juicy sex scandal to chew over. The idea was to get it screened in a couple of Soho cinemas, make the press aware of it, maybe a couple of the darker princes of Westminster. Of course, no one would publish any pictures from it. We’re talking about a different world after all.’

‘Anyway, we found some rube who worked on a butcher’s stall on the market and drank in the Blue Posts. He looked the part. No one was going to be looking at his face, anyway…’ The idea of that interview had always haunted Billy: Pedy replete in bookie chic making his way into the crowded pub, tossing a pair of driving gloves onto the varnished bar, offering a ring-a-ding to a stallholder, a gambit about women and the weather, maybe a tip he had on the gee-gees, how is business old fruit, and by the way, apropos of nothing, I’m casting a blue movie and you’ll fit the bill. Talk about a different world.

‘I hired a couple of the local doxies, and we set ourselves up in a studio flat on Berwick Street. I’ve had some dark nights of the soul, Billy, believe me, but that has to be amongst the worst of them. It’s what happens when you go for a niche amateur rather than using your established and trusted professionals. The poor chap probably hadn’t got his end away in years, and when it came down to it, he wasn’t really ready for his screen debut. It’s one thing to agree to take on a couple of prostitutes when you’re in your cups. Quite another thing when you’ve got the working girls ready and waiting, with yours truly lining up with the camera. Add in the sound man, and a couple of extra crew. I could have charged entrance, believe me. Soho loves a freakshow.

‘So there we all were. A cast, a crew. But no star. It was winter. The bedsit had no heating, which can’t have helped. We gave up eventually, but not before the poor old chap had practically disintegrated trying to get himself up for the part. The doxies started complaining about the cold, so I had them go play tag team, so one got to keep her coat on while the other one tried to coax some life into him. I’ll never forget his face. The strain, the embarrassment. The sheer humbleness. This old barrow boy, probably never thought he would get such an opportunity in his life. ‘Just give me a minute, give me a minute. I don’t want to let anyone down.’ I can hear the pang in his voice. They’re right when they say it. You don’t get to choose your family, and you don’t get to choose your ghosts.’

An excerpt from My First London Dream. Buy a copy here.

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